Street music

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Munich, Sendlinger Strasse

Street music has established itself as a form of cabaret , especially in the last decades of the 20th century . However, they have been around at least since early antiquity , as is known from the traveling singers of the pre-Homeric period and from ancient Iran . In other cultures professions that correspond to the function of earlier Celtic bards have long been known.

Street music is performed by instrumentalists or singers , and occasionally solo entertainers . When the musicians perform alone instead of as a small group , they sometimes use sound carriers for the accompanying music. The musicians stand on the street and present their skills, for which they ask passers-by for money, usually in the form of a hat or an instrument box into which the listeners throw money.

Music students and young people on the road often act as street musicians for a while and use it to finance part of their travel expenses . Occasionally, the musicians develop into sought-after artists, such as some rappers or the Brazilian emboladas .

Motivation of the street musician

Street musicians are a category of street performers . Street music is often performed together with other art forms such as juggling , artistry , clowning and the like. Street musicians sometimes play music as a hobby or to perfection. In some cases, however, they also play music as a small gain in income - like some unemployed people, foreign students (especially from Eastern Europe ) and individual beggars - or permanently for their livelihood, especially in countries that - unlike in most European countries, for example the USA - professional music practice hardly existence locking conditions offer (municipal funded or Orchestra of public service broadcasting). Some of the musicians live under precarious conditions and have to reckon with hostility.

Street musicians often get involved in order to gain greater skill on their instrument when they can hardly hope for engagements in the scene - like young jazz musicians or students of the music academy.

But some musicians also live their dream or their contribution to social movements and grassroots democratic struggle with oppression. In the 1970s and 1980s, political motives prompted many songwriters to perform their songs to passers-by, to create a counter-public for socially critical content and, if necessary, to participate in demonstrations and strikes .

Street musician in Vienna (2011)

Street music is particularly popular with alternative travelers who use street music to cover the costs of their travel and meals. Music students from Eastern European countries regularly use street music to finance their studies by doing street music in wealthier countries and thus getting to know the country and society at the same time. Beggars often learn the basic techniques of an instrument to increase their yields. Many young people slip into the role of street musicians in order to cover part of their travel expenses.

Of street musicians is when the artistic level is not as high. A typical street musician of earlier decades was the barrel organ player (Austrian "Werkelmann"), who sometimes encouraged hobby singers to join in. In the meantime, this form of music has been replaced by guitarists and accordion players at underground stations etc. , but also by various wood and brass players and artists on the jew's harp .


Street musicians prefer heavily frequented places, for example shopping streets, pedestrian zones , tourist attractions or public transport . Underground stations , periodic street markets or parks that are popular in the summer are also popular . There are also spontaneous or organized festivals for street performers. Most street musicians are instrumentalists who often also master several musical instruments.

The extent to which the shopkeepers appreciate the street musicians depends on the local color of the city. Whether they have to tolerate it is usually unclear legally, as long as the offense of a public disorder or disorder does not apply. Some bars even hire musicians, e.g. B. cafes , wine bars or the Viennese Heurigen , but this already represents the transition between street and professional musicians .

Legal status

The legal status of street music varies greatly from region to region. While in some regions, especially metropolises , there are strict regulations on time and place when and where street music can be made, and in some cases a permit is required, street musicians are tolerated in other areas wherever they line up.

In some places the rule applies that you can play for a maximum of half an hour in the same place and then have to change location. Politically motivated street music sometimes led to confrontations between business people, police and musicians, which the musicians described as a "very long and hard war" and ended with arrests.

Due to an agreement between GEMA and the Federal Association of Music Organizers e. V. concluded general contract , no royalties are levied in Germany for the performances of street musicians. For city festivals, street festivals and other outdoor events, however, a separate tariff applies.

Styles of music

In terms of musical styles, you can find almost everything from baroque and classical music to jazz , country , Andean and folk music to rock and pop music .

Buskers in Europe are for example Dublin , London , Berlin , Vienna , Prague , Salzburg , Cologne , Mannheim , Barcelona and other Mediterranean cities. Strongholds of US street music are u. a. Memphis in Tennessee, New Orleans as well as New York City and Chicago .

Some dance styles were also shaped or further developed by street musicians, e.g. B. forms of jive , breakdance or more recently jump style .

“Street music in Rome” ? / iAudio file / audio sample

More motifs for street music

Joon Wolfsberg still as a street musician (2011)

In addition to the possibility of a small income, many street musicians want to practice their skills, but also to experience with a neutral audience. Getting to know the music scene to a certain extent and getting acquainted is also a possible goal. Quite a number of successful musicians in jazz and in rock and pop music have started out as street musicians. Some of them are:

as well as a number of other folklore and songwriters such as Wolfgang Ambros , Marc Bolan , Nikitaman , Yann Tiersen , Sidney Bechet , Steve Coleman , Floyd Council , Ted Heath , River Phoenix , Hank Williams , Pawel Runow , Blaise Siwula , Aaron Dodd . Female street musicians are less common. These include Alice Phoebe Lou , Kathy Kelly , Simone Oberstein , Elsa Oehmigen and Joon Wolfsberg . There are also pure instrumentalists, such as musicians on the charango , banjo , guitar or accordion .

Many street musicians later became well-known authors and composers, such as Walter Mossmann , Gerald Jatzek or Herwig Strobl , who called himself “the king of street musicians”. Former street musicians take part in Elster Silberflug and Faltsch Wagoni .

Some well-known artists who saw and lived street music as an adequate form of musical art are Klaus the Geiger and Moondog .

Street music festivals

Street music festivals have recently become established in many countries. The Ferrara Buskers Festival , which has existed since 1988, claims to be the largest and oldest of these festivals. Other European festivals are:

Street musicians and other artists compete at the Street Performance World Championship in Dublin .

At the TFF Rudolstadt , the largest European world music festival, street music is an important part of the program every year.


  • Kai Engelke (ed.): The street music book. With lots of tips, reports, experiences, legal information, claims, interviews, statements, photos, drawings, poems & songs on street music and street theater. Gauke, Hannover 1984, ISBN 3-87998-049-7
  • Helmut Gebhardt: The legal status of street and beggar musicians in the 19th and 20th centuries. in: Martin F. Polaschek / Otto Fraydenegg-Monzello (ed.): Gernot D. Hasiba's 60th birthday ceremony (= work on law, history and politics in Europe, vol. 4). Graz 2003 ISBN 3-901654-04-6 pp. 27–41
  • Klaus Grabenhorst: "... that a person yells around in the pedestrian zone" - experiences with street music. In Jürgen Frey (ed.): We learned that from it. New political music for life and survival. Reinbek, Rowohlt Taschenbuch 1979 (rororo 4391), ISBN 3-499-14391-7
  • Waltraud Kokot, Helmut Rösing, Simone Reich, Simon Sell (eds.): "The hardest stage in the world ...": Street music in Hamburg. LIT, Berlin 2004, ISBN 978-3-8258-0049-9
  • Mark Nowakowski: Street music in Berlin. Between the art of living and the struggle for life. A music-ethnological field study. transcript, Bielefeld 2016, ISBN 978-3-8376-3385-6
  • Walter Salmen : Profession: Musician: Despised - idolized - marketed. A social history in pictures . Bärenreiter 1997

Web links

Commons : Street Music  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Andreas Hartmann: The song of the road . In: The daily newspaper: taz . May 4, 2019, ISSN  0931-9085 , p. 41,44–45 ( [accessed June 20, 2019]).
  2. Festival calendar of street music
  3. Klaus the Geiger: Rumpelstielz ?, No. 9: The Arrest of the Road (1985)
  4. Paragraph 3 point 2 of the general contract: "Without recognizing a legal obligation for music performances by street musicians, GEMA will not claim any performance royalties." Quoted from: Street music - what you should pay attention to. In: June 2, 2019, accessed August 26, 2019 .
  5. ^ U-St tariff (city festivals, street festivals and other outdoor events). Quoted from: GEMA tariff changes from 2019. Federal Association of Music Organizers e. V., accessed on August 26, 2019 .
  6. Ferrara Buskers Festival website , accessed June 20, 2014
  7. Buskers Bern Street Music Festival , accessed on May 20, 2018
  8. Buskers Braunschweig. The Lion City Street Music Festival. Retrieved March 23, 2018 .
  9. Buskers Festival, Neuchâtel at the Neuchâtel Tourism Association, accessed on June 20, 2014
  10. Web site Ulicnih Sviraca , accessed on June 20, 2014
  11. ^ Website of the Festival Convivencia , accessed on June 20, 2014
  12. Buskerfest Makedonija , accessed on June 20, 2014
  13. 2013 Street Performance World Championship website , accessed June 20, 2014